NEW YORK The Oct. 4 issue of Wenner Media's Rolling Stone sports an impossible-to-miss lenticular ad for the Fox TV network, featuring characters from the net's Sunday-night lineup whooping it up on a roller-coaster ride, their images changing as the reader tilts the ad.
Meanwhile, an eye-popping ad for NBC's new series Bionic Woman that appeared in Time Inc.'s Entertainment Weekly went one further, with the heroine's mechanically enhanced winker lighting up as readers turned the page.
Those executions may be just the beginning of a creative and technological revolution in print ads. As marketers look for more ways to capture the attention of media-saturated consumers, publishers are exploring much more intricate ad units, up to and including ads that feature video.
A media buyer and another industry source confirmed that Time Inc., a sponsor of the MIT Media Lab, is working on technology and has looked at prototypes that would put moving pictures on a page.
Dawn Bridges, Time Inc. representative, wouldn't comment on specific initiatives. "We're looking at a lot of different possibilities in a number of different areas of technology, but nothing that's imminent," she said.
Mike Maguire, CEO of Structural Graphics, a maker of high-impact ads, has shown Time Inc. and other major publishers a prototype his company created with E Ink, an electronic paper display company, that would produce an animated, black-and-white image using pixels and a coin-sized battery.
Maguire, who sees such ads as well suited for demonstrating a new product or change in logo, believes the concept is one to two years away from execution. Ads showing full-color video may not be far behind, he added.
There's certainly an appetite for such advanced ad concepts, especially at entertainment companies looking to make a splash.
"Marketers will ask for virtually everything and say, 'Can you do this?'" said Pete Haeffner, publisher of Gemstar-TV Guide's TV Guide. A print campaign touting the return this season of ABC hit Grey's Anatomy had TV Guide subscribers getting magazines polybagged with hospital gowns.
NBC Universal has executed a number of ads that pop up, light up or emit sounds. John Miller, NBC Universal marketing chief, likes the units for the buzz they generate, high cost and long lead times notwithstanding.
In addition to those negatives, production and transportation issues are a hurdle for tech-driven ads. To limit costs, marketers including NBCU typically limit them to the top few media markets.
Although eye-catching, some question the interruptive nature of such ads.
"You have to ask yourself, what are you in magazines for?" said Scott Kruse, senior vp, director of print services at MediaCom. "The sell of magazines is that they are an opt-in, and consumers have a certain expectation of a magazine and the overall look and feel, and the big, loud ads some consumers might have issue with. It all comes down to the execution."
Innovative as the technologically advanced executions are, some maintain that print messages don't have to be multi-sensory to break through.
"Impactful units are being looked at more and more because of what they add to the marketing message," Haeffner said. But, he added, "an impact ad might not be any more effective than a contextually relevant ad."